Weather fore­cast re­lief to farm­ers

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/worldwide - Sife­lani Tsiko

RE­GIONAL cli­mate ex­perts have all fore­cast that the ap­proach­ing rainy sea­son, which starts in Oc­to­ber, would be nor­mal to wet­ter than nor­mal in Zim­babwe and most other Sadc coun­tries.

The fore­cast is dou­bly wel­come for a re­gion in the mid­dle of one of the worst droughts in decades that has wilted crops, dec­i­mated live­stock, slowed eco­nomic growth and driven food prices higher in the past sea­son.

The 20th South­ern Africa Re­gional Cli­mate Out­look Fo­rum (Sar­cof) an­nounced in Harare this week that from Oc­to­ber 2016 to March 2017, Sadc coun­tries are likely to re­ceive nor­mal to above-nor­mal rain­fall bring­ing re­lief to this re­gion which re­lies heav­ily on rain-fed agri­cul­ture.

“The bulk of South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (Sadc) is likely to re­ceive nor­mal to above-nor­mal rain­fall for most of the pe­riod Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber (OND) 2016 and the Jan­uary to March (JFM) 2017,” reads part of the state­ment is­sued by the Sadc Cli­mate Ser­vices Cen­tre.

“How­ever, north­ern-most Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) north­ern An­gola, south­ern-most of Tan­za­nia, north­ern Mozam­bique, the is­land states of Sey­chelles and eastern-most Mada­gas­car are more likely to re­ceive nor­mal to be­low-nor­mal rain­fall most of the sea­son.”

Sadc mem­ber states have de­clared this year’s El-Nino-in­duced drought a re­gional dis­as­ter, paving the way for donor agen­cies to as­sist in mo­bil­is­ing US$2,8 bil­lion re­quired for food aid for mil­lions of peo­ple fac­ing hunger.

Drought has left up to 40 mil­lion peo­ple in need of food as­sis­tance across the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion. Out of this, 23 mil­lion re­quire im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance.

Zim­babwe is one of the worst af­fected coun­tries by the dri­est year in decades fac­ing south­ern Africa — in­clud­ing Malawi, Zam­bia, Le­sotho, Swazi­land and South Africa.

The UN’s World Food Pro­gramme said about 16 mil­lion peo­ple in South­ern Africa are fac­ing hunger due to poor har­vests in 2015, caused by El Nino weather con­di­tions.

The im­pact of the drought that swept across the Sadc re­gion in the past two years has been felt across all sec­tors in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture, food and nutri­tion se­cu­rity, tourism, en­ergy, health, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.

A ma­jor­ity of small-scale farm­ers are strug­gling to pro­duce enough food to feed their fam­i­lies ow­ing to the drought that rav­aged most parts of Zim­babwe.

Dam lev­els have dropped to their worst lev­els in decades while pas­ture and wa­ter scarcity has dec­i­mated 643 000 live­stock with an es­ti­mated value of up to US$1,9 bil­lion.

Sadc cli­mate ex­perts met last week in the Zim­bab­wean cap­i­tal to ham­mer out a re­gional weather fore­cast for the 2016-2017 crop­ping sea­son which is likely to shift from the dreaded warmer-than-av­er­age weather pat­tern-El Niño — which caused a dev­as­tat­ing drought in the en­tire sub-re­gion to La Nina char­ac­terised by bet­ter rain­fall and cli­mate con­di­tions.

“The cli­mate sci­en­tists took into ac­count oceanic and at­mo­spheric fac­tors that in­flu­ence our cli­mate over Sadc re­gion. In par­tic­u­lar the El Nino-South­ern Os­cil­la­tion (ENSO) is fore­seen to be shift­ing from the warm, through neu­tral to cold phase dur­ing the bulk of the rain­fall sea­son,” re­gional cli­mate ex­perts said in the state­ment.

The ex­perts pre­dict the Novem­ber-De­cem­berJan­uary long-term mean to­tal rain­fall to have a max­i­mum of above 500 mil­lime­tres over much of Malawi, Zam­bia, An­gola, south­ern half of DRC, cen­tral and north­ern Mozam­bique as well as Mau­ri­tius, Mada­gas­car and Sey­chelles.

The re­main­der of the re­gion re­ceives rain­fall less than 400 mil­lime­tres grad­u­ally de­creas­ing south-west­wards to south­west South Africa and Namibia where the mean rain­fall is be­low 100 mil­lime­tres.

Ear­lier this year, Sadc cli­mate ex­perts said the El Nino weather pat­tern which caused drought in the bloc and other parts of the world in the 2015-16 crop­ping sea­son was now break­ing into a neu­tral phase that could de­gen­er­ate into its op­po­site phe­nom­e­non — La Nina cre­at­ing a pos­si­bil­ity of heavy rain­fall and flood­ing in the 2016-2017 crop­ping sea­son.

Ex­perts say La Nina is the op­po­site con­di­tion of El Nino and while the lat­ter causes high tem­per­a­tures and dry spells, the for­mer is char­ac­terised by heavy rain­fall, floods and vi­o­lent storms.

The shift to the La Niña event has buoyed hopes for some farm­ers who hope that the bet­ter rain­fall and cli­mate con­di­tions in the months ahead could sig­nif­i­cantly boost yields, wa­ter avail­abil­ity and pas­ture for live­stock.

“The dev­as­tat­ing El Nino episode which dis­rupted the economies of most Sadc coun­tries in the 20152016 sea­son was a clear wakeup call to all of us that we should not take for granted what you weather ex­perts are say­ing and fore­cast­ing,” En­vi­ron­ment, Wa­ter and Cli­mate Min­is­ter Op­pah Muchin­guri-Kashiri told the re­gional cli­mate ex­perts.

“It is more costly to re­act than to be pre­pared. If a drought oc­curs, de­vel­op­ment is sti­fled, it stag­nates and even ret­ro­gresses be­cause fi­nances are di­verted to im­port­ing food. The net ef­fect is also the same when floods oc­cur.”

Said David Phiri, FAO sub-re­gional co­or­di­na­tor for South­ern Africa: “The evolv­ing cli­mate pat­terns char­ac­terised by cyclic droughts, floods and cy­clones have be­come more fre­quent in south­ern Africa.

“The scale and com­plex­i­ties of th­ese haz­ards re­quires that we im­prove on our early warn­ing sys­tems so that th­ese haz­ards do not re­sult in dis­as­ters.”

He urged Sadc coun­tries to take full ad­van­tage of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies to dis­sem­i­nate cli­mate in­for­ma­tion.

On the flip side, de­vel­op­ment ex­perts have warned Sadc coun­tries to brace for floods that may lead to an­other year of food short­ages as the re­gion is ex­pected to re­ceive nor­mal to above nor­mal rains.

They fear that wet­ter con­di­tions may trig­ger floods that may dam­age crops, in­fra­struc­ture and spark crop and live­stock diseases that may se­ri­ously erode agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

Sadc Cli­mate Ser­vices Cen­tre co­or­di­na­tor Brad­well Garanganga said it was im­por­tant to have lo­cal and re­gional fore­cast apart from the global pre­dic­tions which had al­ready been made.

“Some of the global re­ports do not talk to the re­gion,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant not to over­look lo­cal con­di­tions and dy­nam­ics. Nu­mer­ous re­ports have been made else­where on La Nina and El Nino — but we have to look at things in an in-depth way, in de­tail us­ing lo­cal pro­cesses and anal­y­sis.

“In the 1997-1998 pe­riod, global cli­mate ex­perts pre­dicted the big­gest El Nino, but this did not bring the much feared drought across our re­gion. We need to re­main alive to th­ese dy­nam­ics.”

El Niño events are as­so­ci­ated with a warm­ing of the cen­tral and eastern trop­i­cal Pa­cific. La Niña events are the re­verse, with a sus­tained cool­ing of th­ese same ar­eas. — Zim­pa­pers Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Vil­lagers at­tempt to save a cow stuck in mud at the height of a dev­as­tat­ing drought caused by the El Nino weather pat­tern in Mata­bele­land South, in this file photo

Min­is­ter Op­pah Muchin­guri-Kashiri

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